THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless/freestyle puzzle that's just about the same difficulty level as other recent Saturday puzzles
Some people say that Brad Wilber is their nemesis. He does a lot of themeless puzzles for both the New York Times and the L.A. Times and I dunno, I don't find Brad's work particularly difficult, nor do I find that I'm cosmically attuned to his wavelength. Do you struggle more with his puzzles than the other Saturday constructors', or are they par for the course?
Lots of zippity-doo-dah answers in this one, plenty of zing. Among the 20 answers that are 7 to 9 letters long, these ones really sparkle:
- 15A. EMILE ZOLA gained crossword immortality via the movie Wordplay when a couple blank squares in ZOLAESQUE atop Byron Walden's finals puzzle cost Al Sanders the championship at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Plain ol' EMILE ZOLA rides those coattails but also scores as a first-and-last-name combo. Those are always cool, particularly when crossword solvers have been plunking the person's first or last name into the grid for years. Both EMILE and ZOLA are ≥50% vowels and have literary cred, so they're crossword regulars. (The clue? Writer painted by Manet. And the video that follows? It's from Gary Louris's "Every Word," written for Wordplay.)
- 17A. NASCAR DAD is slightly less au courant than it would've been a few years ago, but it's still a bright spot in a crossword. My cab driver today was wearing a Nascar cap. Can you believe it? An actual native-born American cabbie? I see one every couple years in Chicago. They're like blue moons.
- 32A. GORETEX is a Parka material. Timely! I looked at a U.S. temperature map this morning, and only teeny slivers of the mainland were above the 40s. Have we got any readers in the North Dakota area? If so, good gravy, how can you stand the cold? Best thing that ever happened to me was getting dumped just before Valentine's Day by a guy from the Fargo area. Glad not to have wound up moving to N.D. because Chicago's winters are so much milder. Ahem.
- 62A. Yeah, a SPEED TRAP is Where you might see a cop aim a gun. Recently learned that flashing your headlights is a way to warn folks on the other side of the highway that there's a cop lurking with radar. "What's that guy doing with his headlights? That's weird." ... "Ohhhh, speed trap. Gotcha."
- 9D. I'll put LAD, A DOG in here just because I've never seen the full title in the grid. This Classic man's-best-friend novel by Terhune gets the junky partial-entry treatment sometimes; e.g. "___ Dog" (Terhune book). This is better.
- 14D. IDEE FIXE gets a tricky clue, Something a Parisian might get stuck on? Maybe you can explain why, once I got the FIXE part, I then filled in PRIX FIXE. Durr...
- 21D. Bing, bing, bing! We have a winner! The phrase GO ROGUE is my favorite thing in this puzzle. Deviate from team strategy is a reasonable, non-Palinocentric clue for the term, which I suspect will have legs for years to come.
- 34D. Breeding center is a STUD FARM. If you can't get a little horse sex into the crossword on a Saturday, when can you?
Crosswordese 101: DAG! Do you ever say "Dag!" instead of "Dang!"? That's not the DAG we're dealing with today. The crosswordese Dag is much beloved for two reasons: (1) I learned his name from crosswords when I was a kid, and (2) many of the paperback youth fiction I read when I was a kid was published by a company whose address was One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. So DAG has always stuck in my mind. 27D: Nobelist Hammarskjold is the clue today. JFK called him "the greatest statesman of our century"; it's a little early to nominate anyone for the present century. (The picture? Well, Ingrid is prettier than Dag, and they're both Swedish. Like ABBA.)
Everything Else — 1A: One making a brief contribution? (PARALEGAL); 10A: Missile Command game company (ATARI); 15A: Writer painted by Manet (EMILE ZOLA); 16A: Went wild (RAVED); 17A: Family racing enthusiast (NASCAR DAD); 18A: Island where Icarus was imprisoned (CRETE); 19A: The Jonas Brothers, e.g. (TRIO); 20A: Panini cheese (ASIAGO); 22A: Northwest Passage explorer (RAE); 23A: Actress Paquin et al. (ANNAS); 25A: Prefix with skeleton (ENDO-); 26A: "You wish!" ("AS IF!"); 27A: Nobelist Hammarskjöld (DAG); 28A: One who refuses to take an oath? (CENSOR); 30A: Sub builder? (DELI); 31A: Examine closely (SIFT); 32A: Parka material (GORETEX); 34A: Place to pick up a cat (SCRUFF); 37A: Aplenty (GALORE); 38A: Fawners (TOADIES); 40A: Madrigalist's accompaniment (LUTE); 41A: Items in a modern bibliog. (URLS); 42A: Charmers (CUTIES); 44A: Clock-setting std. (GMT); 47A: Tim of "Private Practice" (DALY); 48A: Steady (TRUE); 49A: West Indian sorcery (OBEAH); 51A: It may be at the end of the line (FLY); 52A: Vivacious wit (ESPRIT); 54A: Erato's instrument, in some depictions (LYRE); 55A: "My Fair Lady" race site (ASCOT); 57A: C·diz's region (ANDALUSIA); 59A: Put on again (REAIR); 60A: Smooth, lustrous quality (SILKINESS); 61A: Bowling pin wood (MAPLE); 62A: Where you might see a cop aim a gun (SPEED TRAP); 1D: Group of five (PENTAD); 2D: Historic Nile excavation site (AMARNA); 3D: Heading up (RISING); 4D: Metal industry acronym (ALCOA); 5D: Grazing ground (LEA); 6D: Book after II Chronicles (EZRA); 7D: Miraculous (GODSENT); 8D: Delon and Resnais of French film (ALAINS); 9D: Classic man's-best-friend novel (LAD: A DOG); 10D: Chevron competitor (ARCO); 11D: Seaman (TAR); 12D: Against (AVERSE TO); 13D: Mall tenant (RETAILER); 14D: Something a Parisian might get stuck on? (ID´EE FIXE); 21D: Deviate from team strategy (GO ROGUE); 24D: Netflix genre (SCI-FI); 26D: Jane Eyre's charge __ Varens (ADELE); 29D: Personal or special things (EFFECTS); 31D: Big-headed? (SUDSY); 33D: Joe Buck's friend (RATSO); 34D: Breeding center (STUD FARM); 35D: The Great Barrier Reef borders it (CORAL SEA); 36D: Itís usually a regular one worn backwards (RALLY CAP); 39D: Outdo (SURPASS); 40D: Get no use (LIE IDLE); 43D: Root crop high in vitamin C (TURNIP); 44D: Yellowstone attraction (GEYSER); 45D: Actress Tomei (MARISA); 46D: Daddy Warbucks's hired muscle (THE ASP); 50D: Not pulling any punches (BLUNT); 52D: Infinitive with a circumflex (ÊTRE); 53D: Receipts (TAKE); 56D: Drum filler (OIL); 58D: Soup-to-go need (LID).